Farming Community Does Its Part To Protect Lake

The article “Prendergast Library Holds Critical Discussion on Lake Health” that appeared in the May 1 edition of The Post-Journal included the statement “Seventy-one percent of the phosphorus that reaches the lake comes from farm fields” We feel that statement is inaccurate. It is the opinion of The Chautauqua County Soil & Water Conservation District, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service that the farming community in the Chautauqua Lake Watershed is currently doing more than any other group to minimize nutrient loading and sedimentation into the lake.

According to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s Total Maximum Daily Load document for Chautauqua Lake, the total phosphorous load from agriculture is twenty-three percent of the phosphorous load entering Chautauqua Lake. The TMDL is the officially adopted document that New York State endorses for reducing the phosphorous loading to the lake in order to improve water quality.

Other phosphorous loads to the lake include developed areas (8.5 percent), septic systems (2 percent), forested and wetland areas (3.2 percent), internal loading (44.7 percent), and wastewater treatment plants (8 percent). Total combined developed uses contribute 18.5 percent of the phosphorous load.

The famers in the Chautauqua Lake watershed as a group have done more to implement best management practices to address phosphorous and sediment control on their land than any other group of land users combined. Through their own investments, combined with conservation programs such as USDA’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the New York State agricultural non-point source reduction program, farmers have constructed manure storages to help them more effectively time manure applications to their fields, implemented soil testing programs to closely manage applications of manure and commercial fertilizers, installed silage leachate and milkhouse waste filtration systems to reduce nutrient runoff, and developed rotational grazing systems to feed livestock from grass rather than row crops, thereby reducing sedimentation. The investment in these systems is in excess of several million dollars over the last decade, and was completed on several thousand acres of watershed land.

More work will continue to be done on Chautauqua Lake agricultural lands. The NRCS will offer the National Water Quality Initiative to portions of the Chautauqua Lake watershed to implement additional water quality best management practices for the second year in a row in 2013. That will bring USDA’s investment in the watershed to close to $600,000 in the past two years alone.

The SWCD will continue to conduct Agricultural Environmental Management inventories and conservation planning on all participating Chautauqua County farms. This is a voluntary process where the SWCD assists farmers to identify potential problem areas and develop plans to address those issues in the near future. This process has always been emphasized on farms in the Chautauqua Lake watershed.

Both NRCS and the SWCD encourage farmers to continue participation in programs to enhance the water quality of Chautauqua Lake as they have for many years. We also encourage developed land users to develop and implement best management practices that will address the phosphorous loadings coming from their portion of the watershed in concert with agricultural land users.

Watershed managers throughout the country recognize that properly managed low density land uses such as agriculture and forestry hold the best hope for maintaining water quality. Agricultural and forested lands absorb significant quantities of rainfall and result in much lower levels of flooding, sedimentation, toxic chemical runoff, and atmospheric deposition contributions to receiving waters than developed land uses.

A “working landscape” of farms and forests surrounding Chautauqua Lake is a major part of the lake’s legacy which attracts visitors from around the world. Let’s continue to support these land users in their stewardship of the land for future generations as they grow the food and forest products that we enjoy every day. Voluntary incentive-based programs to help them do so are the most effective tool to make that happen. Accurate, factual, and relevant information on the contributions of various land users to good management of the lake and its watershed is the starting point for progress on improving the lake.

Robert Halbohm is the district conservationist for the USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service. David Spann is district field manager of the Chautauqua County Soil and Water Conservation District.